Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ole' Hairy Eyeball

Where else would the topic of conversation go from teaching youth to eyeball attacks?


I was a yellow belt down in Salisbury, Md. and one night out of the blue Mr. Lewis began talking about sticking fingers in eyeballs. A best I remember it he said:


Someone recently asked me why Isshinryu doesn’t have finger strikes to the eyeballs like Kung Fu does? My answer is very simple. You can train for years in forms with eyeball finger strikes, but when push comes to shove if you don’t have what it takes to stick your fingers into somebody’s eyes, all that practice won’t do you any good. On the other hand you don’t have to practice finger strikes into the eyes at all, but if that’s what it takes and if you have what it takes you’ll do it without the practice.”


Now in Salisbury that was a true statement, because everyone in class was either hard or trying very hard to become hard and I don’t think there was a person there who would have hesitated one instant to use a finger strike into the eyes if that was necessary.


But the training there was specialized. If somebody wasn’t hard or really willing to undergo a significant starting point experiencing pain, they didn’t stay with the class.


Taking people who don’t have the instinct to stick their fingers into someone’s eyes, for whatever reason and building them towards developing that focus is a very different sort of training.


About 17 years ago a young woman joined our adult program because several of her friends (Uechi Brown Belts) decided to train with us.  Back then I often had a student try and spar their first night, just to see what natural instincts they had or didn’t have. Nothing really threatening, just a little tag. 


But when I asked her to try and spar she literally broke down and I spent maybe an hour trying to calm her down. She was literally incapable of being able to strike anyone, for any reason. Over the next several years she progressed strongly into green belt training, and was really enjoying herself till work caused her to move on. She did learn to spar, but only defensively. She did learn to block and parry, but she could not strike back. But her kata and technique, including striking the bag was fine, she was also really getting involved in the training, yet she just would not allow herself to hit a person for any reason.


One way to run a program is to eliminate those who aren’t the ‘right stuff’, and that’s fine for some programs. Another way is to work with everyone and try and help them develop the ‘right stuff’. Some may do so, some may not, but in life who do you think needs it more?


Teaching kids is a very fret full business. Not running classes or working with their individual potentials. Rather it’s living with the question of how much is too much, and how much isn’t enough.


Like most of the big questions in the arts, there are no simple answers. You can Sanchin and Not Sanchin and be a great karate-ka. You can use body hardening or not use body hardening and be a great karate-ka. Most often what appear diametrically opposite methods of training can yield similar results.


But how much do you share of the adult world with kids. Too little and they might pay the price. Too much and under some circumstances somebody else might?


Where and what you do is mostly a product of where you live, how much the student trains, what their parents are willing to permit, and how successful your program of instruction is towards building that students potential.


Some areas are more frequently violent, other areas are far less.

Take Derry, NH.

A quiet peace-full place. Green, more rural for a town of its size in many places.



Of course I’ve had a SWAT team running an operation in my front yard one night years ago.  Pam Smart, the teacher who had her husband murdered, lived in Derry.  It has murders and rapes and other unfriendly activities. Several weeks ago a rapist was leading the police and helicopters through our end of town through the woods till he was caught in Salem, NH. A number of years ago someone machine gunned down town officials in a town hall north of here.


No not safe, no place is safe. But still relatively safer than many cities and towns around the country. For example I don’t recall any regular instance of a mugging taking place, within the past 20 years.


If you teach kids karate in Derry, the parent’s aren’t enrolling them in karate class for self defense. I think they see karate as another youth passage art, like baseball or ballet. And partially because the town school system has a Zero Tolerance Policy towards school violence. So a child attacked in school who defends themselves will be suspended too. Sounds dumb but on the whole it does work.


My son is a good kid, always has been. He’s tough, played soccer goalie many years, was a little league catcher. He can dig in the dirt and take it and keep going. But he would listen to his teachers, and when kids were picking on him on the school bus, years ago, he would not fight back. He could have blasted them, and I was more than willing to let him do so. But it wasn’t in his nature, because he really wasn’t being threatened. Just hassled.


My students start as young as 7, and with only two classes a week, most are not there every class.  I have to pick and choose what is appropriate for their training.


With part time students, it’s difficult for the newer ones to focus on how to defend against any sort of attack, much less an adult. Because on the whole, most don’t have sufficient physical skills, yet, to do much of anything, including finger strikes.


And my students haven’t been winnowed to be the strongest. They’re boys and girls, strong and weak, focused and vastly un-focused, each one with different needs.


Instead of concentrating on self defense skills, I teach them karate, and try and build general safe awareness. Like:


  1. Never get in a car with anyone, no matter what they tell you.
  2. Don’t hang out outside in the summer evenings, and make sure your parents always know where you are.
  3. Never, never, Never let anyone touch your neck.
  4. If you get in trouble, Scream “FIRE” at the top of your lungs, and don’t stop screaming.
  5. Always tell an adult about what’s happening, and if they don’t believe you tell another one, and still another one till somebody listens.


Of course if it was up to me, I’d like them to call me if something was happening and let me ‘address’ the situation. But that isn’t the wan the world works.


It reminds me of a time about 10 years ago, I had a 9th grade teenage girl join the program, and some of her friends joined then too. After her first class she asked me: “Mr. Smith, what do I do when I’m in a car and some boy starts putting moves on me.”  My response was “First you should consider whether you should have gotten in the car with that boy in the first place. That choice is far more important than understanding how to trash him if he does make a move.”


She was startled, but when I explained most of the men who are going to attack a woman, know them and often know them well in the first place. She began to understand that self defense was more than just knowing how to hit.  [And of course there’s no instant course for beginners that will safely work each time, either.]


[She stayed with us till it was time for University. She reached 2nd brown and was a good student.]


Now the kids that train in karate with me on the whole have parents who are paying attention and watching out for them. And they’ve heard most of this from their family and in school, but I do believe their karate instructor having the same message helps make it sink in.


If I was living in a different area than Derry, I’m sure I would change the mix of thing. Then again if the students were training longer and more frequently the mix would change as a result of that too.


In time finger strikes to the eyes are part of the art, but with how to set the opponents face up before the strike (not to end up like on the 3 stooges). And when students are maybe into 5 or 6 years of training, more serious responses are part of their focus. But then they have more size, more training and body control.


Once you understand you can only do what you can do in the time they have to train with you, you are more able to accept you can’t give them instant answers. So you work step by step towards those answers.


Look when my little sister was 13, and I was a new student, I gave her my ‘Rape a Rapist’ method of rape self defense. Sort of what my wife would do in those circumstances (and my wife can be very nasty).  It is a series of very brutal responses that I would not share with anyone outside of family, and you wouldn’t practice them, for the same reasons Mr. Lewis gave. But I armed her with the options she could have used if she chose.


I would not share them elsewhere, because it could be readily taken the wrong way. That’s part of the issue shaping what you share with your students. If they’ve been training with you a significant time, you can share things that they understand are not shared openly. But with younger kids, you should not share what you can’t totally explain to their parents, what and why you’re teaching them.


And in a town like Derry, you also have a responsibility to contribute to the zero tolerance policy in the schools, and at the same time make the kids understand there are times you forget the rules.


It’s always how much is too much, and how much is too little.


When I was a brown belt, Charlie Murray began a program for kids in his Church Basement.  One night one of the boys came with his shirt torn, his lip cut and a black and blue eye. Charlie asked him what happened. He replied “Reverend, a boy attacked me after school. He was punching and kicking .I could have hit him in the face. I could have kneed him in the face or kicked his legs, but I didn’t do any of that because I’m a good Christian.”  His face beaming as he told us what happened.


So Charlie explained very carefully, being a good Christian didn’t mean you had to let people beat on you.


I would wish none of my students, youth or adult, ever needed their training, in school, in the Marine Corps, in the Court system or in the FBI.  But if they need it I hope their training has been sufficient.


And there’s one more question, what do they have if you don’t spend the time helping them develop?


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